Fri, Jul 10, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Movie review: Gatao

Joe Lee’s latest movie sets out to depict Taiwan’s underworld, but quickly devolves into romantic shlock

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Gatao features a handsome cast with great production values, but the story about a gangster who tries to stop a market from being torn down has as many holes in it as a bullet-riddled corpse.

Photo courtesy of Winday

Joe Lee (李運傑) packs plenty into his latest film, Gatao, a gangster drama that features plenty of bloodshed, turf wars, romance and familial bonding.

Unfortunately none of these tropes click.

Despite superior production values and a handsome cast led by Alien Huang (黃鴻升) and Sunny Wang (王陽明), the film fails to depict the fascinating world of gatao — Taiwan’s criminal world — and instead devolves into soap-opera frippery filled with narrative loopholes and false emotions.

In the beginning of Gatao, gang life involves street fights with sticks and knives, but everyone is under the control of Boss Yong (Tsai Chen-nan, 蔡振南). To Xiong (Huang), who is arrested during a turf battle, serving time for the gang is proof of brotherhood. Upon his release from prison, Xiong is immediately promoted by Boss Yong to oversee a traditional market where he grew up.

At first, life at the market is good. Xiong knows everyone and takes up the responsibility to look after the shopkeepers. He also strikes up a romance with childhood friend Lei Lei (Christina Mok, 莫允雯). Meanwhile, Xiong’s popularity grows, becoming a threat to Yong’s right-hand man Qing Feng (Sun Peng, 孫鵬),who has a crush on Lei Lei, and believes he is next in line to head the gang.

Things quickly deteriorate when Michael (Wang), the US-educated son of the late rival-gang leader, returns to claim his throne. Depicted as crude and money-driven, the entrepreneurial Michael sees himself as a property developer and has set his mind on what he views as a profitable urban renewal project. But Michael’s plan involves tearing down the market.

Conflicts and bloodletting soon ensue. Torn between his responsibility to the gang and his love for the grandmother who raised him and Lei Lei, Xiong now must make difficult choices that eventually lead to betrayal and murder.

Film notes

Gatao(角頭)

DIRECTED BY:Joe Lee (李運傑)

STARRING:Alien Huang (黃鴻升) as Xiong, Sun Peng (孫鵬) as Qing Feng, Sunny Wang (王陽明) as Michael

RUNNING TIME:104 MINUTES

Language:In Hoklo and Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles

TAIWAN RELEASE:In theaters


The film’s promising examination of traditional values and runaway capitalism largely goes astray. The motives and struggles of the characters are written and performed, but never felt and conveyed. Throughout the over 100-minute long screening time, there is a constant bombardment of melodramatic cliches and genre gimmickry, leading to nothing more than lame mimicry.

One thing worth mentioning is the film’s lush cinematography that graciously captures a familiar side of Taiwanese life, ranging from fluorescent-lit, crowded interiors to the messy, bustling night markets.

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